Indian teenager takes his own life after accidentally smashing family smartphone

Joe Wallen
·2 min read
Since March, lessons have moved online in India but only wealthy students can participate - Noah Seelam/AFP
Since March, lessons have moved online in India but only wealthy students can participate - Noah Seelam/AFP

A distraught 16-year-old boy in southern India has killed himself after accidentally smashing the screen of the smartphone he and his three siblings relied on for remote school learning.

Rohit Varak’s parents could not pay to get the phone fixed because his father’s work as a bus driver had dried up during the Covid-19 crisis, with India struggling to contain the world’s second-largest total caseload.

The Indian government closed its schools in March with only three out of its 36 states and union territories gradually reopening classrooms - Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim and the Punjab - with all lessons switched to online.

Rohit and his siblings, who live in Goa, considered themselves fortunate to share one smartphone, local media reported.

The incident has again highlighted how difficult it is for huge swathes of Indian students to access education virtually, with affordable access to technology out of reach for most people.

Densely-populated India has struggled to contain the world's second-largest Covid-19 epidemic - Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
Densely-populated India has struggled to contain the world's second-largest Covid-19 epidemic - Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Research conducted by the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad found that 98 percent of households did not possess a laptop of Wi-Fi, a typical percentage for an Indian city.

Smartphones are also unaffordable for many in a country where one-quarter of its 1.38 billion citizens still live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Activists say similar tragic events will keep happening if schools are not reopened and the Punjab is the only state to distribute free smartphones to people who cannot afford them.

“This is a huge concern because education and inequality was already quite stark, given the gap between government and private schools,” explains Dipa Sinha, Faculty at Ambedkar University Delhi.

“Now, in this context of online education, the gap is obviously increasing as only the better off have enough devices and the digital literacy to access resources.”

In the state of Kerala, students took to the streets in protest in June after an impoverished 14-year-old girl set herself alight after being unable to attend online classes.